Precinct-focused, retail-centred REIT Liberty Two Degrees (L2D) has continued to derive value in its operational strategy focused on asset management.
“We remain focused on the ‘new ABC of rebuilding for growth’ strategy and specifically on responding on agility, taking a ‘back-to-basics’ approach in continuing to build strong property fundamentals and creating new communities of merged environments to complement our precinct-focused strategy which has enabled us to continue to derive value from our quality assets in the period” commented CEO, Amelia Beattie during the company’s Annual General Meeting and the presentation of the company’s operational update.
L2D’s retail portfolio recorded positive turnover growth in March 2021 when compared to the corresponding month in the prior year, which was impacted by the hard lockdown in March 2020. Retail recovery remains encouraging as the portfolio generated a strong recovery in March 2021, achieving 27.1% turnover growth and 28.5% trading density growth respectively, compared to March 2020.
This is largely attributable to the easing of restrictions in February 2021. The portfolio’s turnover for March was R1.3 billion and it was only 6.4% below the 2019 turnover levels. Luxury brands contributed 8.0% towards total turnover, with a year-on-year growth of 109%. Other strong performing categories across the portfolio include homeware and furniture, technology, and apparel.
“All of our malls recorded positive turnover growth in March 2021 when compared to the corresponding month in the prior year, with three of our malls recording turnover growth for the latest reported quarter, reflecting an encouraging trend. Notably, Sandton City has had a remarkable recovery and achieved its highest turnover in March 2021, compared to the preceding five years’ months of March. Turnover for March 2021 was up by 41% compared to the preceding year and 2.6% higher than March 2019. The 2021 first quarter was only down 2.1% on 2020 and down 3.5% on 2019.” said Jonathan Sinden, L2D Chief Operations Officer.
The January 2021 monthly portfolio foot count was 72.1% compared to January 2020 levels due to the lockdown restrictions implemented at the end of December 2020. The easing of lockdown restrictions in February 2021 enabled the portfolio foot count to recover to 81.6% of the prior year comparative month on a like-for-like basis. The monthly portfolio foot count for March 2021 improved to 99.4% of the comparative 2020 level which was, however, impacted by the initiation of the level 5 lockdown at the end of March 2020. L2D’s retail occupancy, which has shown resilience especially considering the current economic climate, remains high at 95.0% at March 2021 (December 2020: 95.3%).
The office sector continues to be impacted by the work from home trend resulting in an 86.7% occupancy rate at March 2021, largely attributable to further office vacancies at Melrose Arch. There has been a notable improvement in occupancy levels in March 2021 compared to March 2020, at Nelson Mandela Square, Atrium on 5th and the Umhlanga Office Building, a positive trend.
“A new artificial intelligence software has been installed on our camera system throughout the portfolio. The installation begun providing real time monitoring and customer counting capabilities from the 1st of April 2021. The new software will enable us to better understand our customers through advanced data analytics and will further enhance the safety of our shopping environments.” added Sinden.
Providing an engaging experiential tenant offering is core to L2D and with another nineteen new deals successfully secured in the first quarter, we have enhanced our retail experience even further.
- A total space of 12,622m² has been successfully renewed in 2021, with 4,052m² in the retail portfolio and 8,570m² within the office portfolio.
- Adidas will open its first Halo store in South Africa at Sandton City, offering an interactive and completely revolutionised retail experience.
- ARC is another new original store which will open its doors in Sandton in June. ARC is a cosmetic emporium which will showcase many of the most desirable and indie cosmetics brands some of which are firsts to the South African landscape.
- Luxury has been doing well as a category and Sandton will add to this category with the addition of Alexander McQueen, a first in South Africa. Alexander McQueen will be located within the Diamond Walk and will take a portion of the former Prada shop.
- Chanel will also unveil its first standalone flagship fragrance and beauty boutique at Sandton City at the end of May. Another first for the portfolio.
- Both Sandton and Eastgate will open new Armani Exchange stores in the coming month. This will add to the affordable luxury category and demonstrates the collaboration that exists between our centres.
- Midlands Mall recently opened its first iStore pop-up which will be converted into a permanent store in future.
- These new tenants are testament to how L2D partners with its tenants to deliver a compelling customer experience.
L2D also announced the retirement of Lead Independent Director, Wolf Cesman with effect from the 7th of May 2021. Barbara Makhubedu has been appointed as Lead Independent Director.
“We are encouraged by our operational performance, having seen a good improvement in retail fundamentals. The progress made towards our rebuilding for growth strategy, not only for our business but for our broader stakeholders, is pleasing as we reaffirm our commitment to position the business for the expected step change.”
“We will continue to maintain a clear focus and have a hunger to serve the overall purpose of L2D of continuing to create experiential spaces for generations” concluded Beattie.